After about seventy five minutes of Fulham’s good 2-0 win over long time Championship leaders Wolves on Saturday evening, Don Goodman told the watching Sky viewers that, if the score stays the same (it was 2-0 at the time), then the result would send a message out that the Craven Cottage side were now serious automatic promotion contenders to the likes of Villa and Derby, there was then a pause of about five seconds before he added, almost as an afterthought, Cardiff.
Apparently, Talksport’s radio commentary of yesterday’s game between Cardiff City and Bristol City contained a remark which was along the lines of Cardiff were stopping their opponents from playing their normal, fluent passing game, hence the match was a poor one – in effect, we were dragging them down to our own level.
In the aftermath of City’s 1-0 win over the wurzels, some Bristol City fan who gives us the benefit of his wisdom through his Twitter account, told the world “Warnock and Cardiff are the Anti-Christ of Football”.
Fair play, in a world where, increasingly, you have one hundred and thirty characters (at least I think it’s one hundred and thirty – I tried Twitter for all of twenty minutes and have never returned to my account) to get your views across, it’s a good line. It’s certainly memorable and jumps out at you among the more mundane reaction quotes in this piece. In some ways, it epitomises what we have become in far more important aspects of life than football – who cares whether there’s any truth in the tweet, as long as it’s snappy and has a good hook?
All three of the examples quoted above manage to convey an impression that, as they stand only six points behind Wolves now in second place in the Championship, some four points ahead of Villa (4-2 winners at Sheffield Wednesday), seven in front of an ailing Derby (who were two points ahead of us at the start of this month) following their 3-3 draw at Reading and eight ahead of Fulham in fifth place, Cardiff City have got where they are as we head into March under false pretences.
Yes, the team that are now fifteen points ahead of seventh place Middlesbrough and have accumulated enough points already to get to the stage where they would have needed to take just one more point out of the thirty six still available to them to have qualified for the Play Offs in our Championship winning season, have, surely, entered into some kind Faustian pact which has enabled them to defy the natural order of things and become interlopers at a top table normally reserved for those who play the game the “right way”!
In truth, the stereotyping of Cardiff City as a bunch of long ball cloggers probably started when we beat Bristol City at home last season. After all, that was Neil Warnock’s first match as City manager and there is no doubt that this perception of what type of team we are has much to do with the “baggage” that our manager has accumulated in his long career.
However, it really started in earnest from our fourth game this season when we went to Molineux and deservedly beat Wolves and, increasingly, we have become seen as something akin to the worst elements of those purveyors of “anti football” from thirty years ago, Wimbledon FC.
Is this reputation justified? Well, I’ve given my view on this before – I don’t think it was for the first year of Neil Warnock’s time in charge. We were direct, forceful and physical, but there was also a pace, quality and even flair to our attacking play at times which marked us out as something more than just Wimbledon mark two.
I will admit though that it has become easier to label us in the kind of derogatory way we’ve become used to seeing in recent months because, if we accept that the term “typical Warnock team” really does have the negative implications that I believe it does, then, yes, for me, it’s fair to say we are more of a typical Warnock team than we were.
A few weeks ago, one of the regular correspondents on here remarked on how the number of fouls we were committing in each game had gone up and, although I couldn’t find it when I looked last night, I can remember reading something, somewhere a while back saying that we were the team in our league which had committed the most fouls.
Certainly, the BBC’S figure of seventeen fouls committed by Cardiff yesterday seems a high one to me, but eight against Ipswich, thirteen against Middlesbrough and eleven against Bolton in the other matches which make up our current winning run don’t strike me as too bad.
A month ago, we got a preview of what it might be like for a “typical Warnock team” if we were to go up when Manchester City came here and brought the national media with them. That was the day of Joe Bennett’s “horror tackle” on Leroy Sane which, from some of the headlines, you might have thought had put the German winger’s career in danger.
Yes, it was a poor tackle and I reckon Bennett should have got a straight red for it, but the fact of the matter is that Sane started for Man City in their League Cup Final stroll against a miserable Arsenal team yesterday and I still believe that a lot of the reaction to the incident was over the top and originated from a, somewhat flawed, perception of what sort of football a team managed by Neil Warnock plays.
Even if we are still at the top of any Championship foul table, and I concede that our manager wants his defenders to “get stuck in” and that his sides are not averse to breaking the game up in attempt to stop our opponents gaining any rhythm, particularly if we are winning, this table, which measures team discipline in terms of red and yellow cards, shows us to be one of the better behaved Championship outfits. So, I’d argue that, while our discipline may be worse than it was in terms of the number of fouls we are conceding, the “cloggers” charge is not proven.
The long ball charge is one that I find harder to come to a conclusion on one way or another, because you end up getting into the realms of proving the old adage about stats being able to say whatever you want them to, to be correct. This table is a pretty damning one I think, because it clearly shows that we have, by some distance, played the least passes of any team in our league, but it also shows that our accurate long passing is the worst in the division, yet when it comes to inaccurate long passing we are seventh in that particular table. Our figures for short passes are poor as well, with us being the worst when it comes to accurate ones and we stand eighth in the inaccurate short passing table.
Of course, there is an argument for saying that we are so poor at playing accurate long balls that it is ludicrous to adopt such an approach. Also, if you combine the accurate and non accurate long ball figures, you discover that there are only seven sides in the Championship that have played fewer long balls than us.
So, that would seem to indicate that we are not a “typical Warnock team” when it comes to a long ball game either. However, I’d say the situation becomes blurred somewhat when you also factor in that no side plays anywhere near as few passes of any kind than we do, so while the stats show that we are the antithesis of, say. the Fulham approach, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we are just knocking it long all of the time.
Therefore, I’d look at it from the point of view that for as long as I can remember, there has been a perception around that the “right” way to play the game is through attractive, passing football which can look great when it works, but, far more often than not, it doesn’t. This is the type of football I would rather see if I had the choice, but it doesn’t half become boring if it becomes passing for passing’s sake – there is nothing attractive about that.
On the other hand, you get the Neil Warnock approach which does not hide it’s refusal to adhere to “proper” footballing principles and so it becomes easy for this to be characterised as the “wrong” way to play the game – I can’t defend Warnock sides in general and Cardiff City in particular from that charge, but it is one that rather relies on definitions that are not as clear cut as many would have you believe.
Now, turning to yesterday’s match, I’d just like to make one small point about our manager and the way I believe he thinks about the game before going on to a more general description of it.
In his post match press conference, Neil Warnock called the pitch (which, once again, didn’t seem that bad to me, but maybe I’m missing something?) “terrible”. This was on the back of some less than complimentary things said about it by Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis following his team’s loss here last weekend and what I would say on this matter in relation to “typical Warnock” is that I can imagine our manager being not too upset at all if his side’s pitch was not of the quality that most clubs in the Championship would want and expect!
Anyway, on to what can be described as a typical derby game yesterday. The thing about all of this “typical Warnock side” stuff is that there is only ever one team that plays like a typical Warnock side and yet I could have sworn I saw two of them out there yesterday – in fact, I thought the side in red looked more of a typical Warnock side than the one in blue did!
I’ve seen the match described as horrible by various people, including the wurzels manager Lee Johnson, and with a gusty, icy cold, wind, an, apparently, inferior pitch and a typical derby game attitude and atmosphere to contend with, as well as a very important three points at stake for a couple of promotion chasing sides, it shouldn’t be a surprise that it wasn’t easy on the eye.
To be frank, it was the sort of game where the ball welcomes the half time break, because it gives it an opportunity to have some treatment – it was the sort of game that only threatened to turn into a football match when someone like Junior Hoilett was on the ball.
If Talksport was to be believed, it was a game where one team had “proper” footballers in their line up and the other side was full of musclebound, hulking giants intent on turning it into a slugfest.
Anyone who watched Bristol City’s two leg League Cup Semi Final with Man City where, to be fair to them, they had a right go at the best team in the country and then saw our rather craven and cautious surrender to them in the FA Cup a few weeks later might just have seen yesterday’s contest in the terms that the person on Talksport apparently did – you know, good against bad, the anti Christ against God’s chosen ones etc, etc.
However, that was far, far from the truth as I saw it. If our team selection (which disappointed me, but, yet again, Warnock came up with the win), with Greg Halford in our midfield at the expense of Marko Grujic, Callum Paterson as our “number ten”, Liam Feeney on the wing and Gary Madine up front, gave a huge clue as to how we were going to play, then the deployment of a Pulis like four centrebacks across the back, the selection of two big men up front and the banishing of Bobby Reid into an anonymous deeper role by Johnson gave the lie to any theory that our opponents were going to, or wanted to, play the “beautiful game”.
Sorry, all this stuff about the wurzels’ footballers being stifled by Cardiff’s lumbering thugs is patent nonsense. We might have smashed the ball every time it moved, but so did they and you need to return to those disciplinary and possession stats that I was referring to earlier to get the real picture of what Bristol were all about yesterday.
I mentioned earlier that we gave away seventeen free kicks for fouls, but that was four less than Bristol did and, when you look where they are on that disciplinary chart, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. It wasn’t a Cardiff player who made contact with an opponent’s face in the dangerous manner that Nathan Baker did with Paterson in the first few minutes – presumably it was the fact that it was so early in the match that persuaded referee Paul Tierney to only show a yellow card?
When it comes to passing, this was a matter which came up in an acrimonious build up to the game as both managers took pot shots at the other clubs – Lee Johnson chose to mention the empty seats which he had noticed when he watches Cardiff home games (fair point, but we are talking about a ground which holds seven thousand more than Ashton Gate does), while Neil Warnock turned the tables as far as long ball football was concerned when he said that it was Bristol who had been playing the game “the wrong way” in the two previous matches between the teams.
Our manager returned to this theme after the game when he revealed that this had influenced his selection after he and his coaching staff had been taken by surprise by Bristol’s approach in previous encounters and, again, the stats back this up – only Burton Albion have played more long balls than the wurzels in this season’s Championship and even the Bristol Post conceded that he may have a point.
If the approach was agricultural on both sides, then I’d agree with our manager’s view that we just shaded the game – in fact, scrub that, I think we did more than “just shade it”, we were the better side and were deserved winners when you consider the amount of goalmouth incidents at either end of the pitch.
Although those four centrebacks meant that Madine’s aerial strength was not seen to any great effect, it was City who carried what threat there was in the first half as Feeney caused early alarms by skipping past left back Magnusson and putting over a cross which led to Madine and Ralls having shots that were well blocked by defenders. The winger also moved dangerously on to a perceptive Bamba pass (Sol was a Man of the Match contender for me) and drew a save out of Fielding, while the keeper also had to make a diving save from a Halford effort from twenty five yards.
Zohore for Madine at half time saw the visiting defence faced with a different set of problems and the Dane was soon using his pace to burst clear and put over a cross, intended for Paterson, which the covering Korey Smith almost turned into his own net. Zohore and Paterson combined again when a Joe Ralls cross was flicked into the path of the Scot who fired just over as City made a forceful start to the second half, but Bristol came through a period where we were dominant to start to look a little more dangerous themselves.
Indeed, by the time the game had reached it’s eighty second minute, I was thinking that if it was going to produce a goal, it was beginning to look as if it might be from the visitors as they forced Neil Etheridge into what was a pretty routine save from a deflected shot. However, City had one more attack in them, as Bamba found sub Kadeem Harris who fell as he tried to take on Bristol captain Bailey Wright, but Ralls was on to the loose ball and burst past Reid to put over a low, near post cross aimed at Paterson, the ball was half cleared, but only as far as Zohore who shot home from five yards.
There was a scramble in the City area late on as Joe Bennett blocked a close range Aiden Flint shot, but they were not to be denied their revenge for the defeat in November in the reverse fixture. Back then, Bristol were on a run which marked them out as automatic promotion candidates, but, unlike us, they’ve never recovered from a dodgy Christmas and Lee Johnson conceded after the game that they are now just looking for a top six finish – for the second successive game, a team had come here intent on taking us on in a manner which I believe makes life easier for us, if most of our remaining opponents have the same attitude, then we might just be playing in the Premier League next season.
+picture courtesy of https://www.bristolpost.co.uk/
*picture courtesy of https://www.walesonline.co.uk/